13 year old Joshua Ushie lives in Ikeja layout community, Beten, Bekwarra Local Government Area in Cross River State in Northern Nigeria.
His community is one of those triggered and declared open defecation- free by Concern Universal, an NGO implementing agency of the Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria (RUSHPIN) Programme in Benue and Cross River states.
Ushie and his friends have seen the benefit of not defecating in the bushes, rivers and other public places, they are aware of handwashing with water and soap or ash at critical times.
As a curious reporter on a field visit to RUSHPIN Project sites, I tested their knowledge on such issues.
I asked Ushie if I could use his parents' toilet, he responded in the affirmative, yes ma.
"We don't 'shit' in the open here, our community have been taught on why we should build our toilets, if you are caught doing it in public, there is a fine for that offense."
"In this community, if anybody is caught defecating in the bush, the person will pay fine, crate of beer, goats etc, if the person refuses, he is arrested."
Ushie said most of the children who previously died and fell sick often due to faecal-oral disease transmission were no longer experiencing such.
Corroborating this fact, the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Coordinator, Bekwarra LGA, Mr Godwin Aghwanya, said the WASH Community Group raise money though a cooperative account to give loans to those who can't afford them to build toilets.
He said this was also done to make the community members convert their toilets from pit latrines to pour-flush types, towards moving up the sanitation ladder.
At a visit to Otuche community in Yala Local Government Area, there was an obvious stench of human faeces permeating the environment.
Around the houses, we could see flies perching on freshly done faeces, creating an atmosphere of poor Hygiene and sanitation.
The Village Head, Godwin Ogar, was educated on the importance of building and using toilets and also in stopping open defecation.
Ogar said before the coming of RUSHPIN Project, his community members defecate only in the bush, saying he would take it upon himself to encourage them to construct and use toilets.
"I will tell my people to construct and use thier toilets, because most times, they fall ill, children die anyhow.
"Some of us have dig the toilets, but I will encourage everybody to build and use theirs."
He pledged that within two months, the community would be declared open defecation free.
Ogar said the community has appointed a four-man committee to inspect houses,saying they would also serve as watchdog towards sustaining total sanitation in the vicinity.
He said there was a fine of 5, 000 naira for penalty for anyone found defecting in the open, saying this would also include the deliberate construction of tigers in such cases.
Mrs Scholastical Beshel, Hygiene Officer, WASH, Yala LGA, one of those who triggered the community was optimistic that the community would change and be committed to hygiene promotion.
She said some of them have decided to end open defecation in their area, saying they have confessed to previously digging their toilets.
"We could see shame and disgust in theirs eyes, that symbolizes that they have been triggered, they have all seen the effect of eating and drinking their shit.
"We will follow up in the village to see that what they have decided to do, will be achievable, although it's a huge task, it is doable, "Beshel said.
Mr Oliver Okon, Project Manager, RUSHPIN, said the Global Sanitation Fund (GSF), has threatened to withdraw funding from sanitation and hygiene in the country, if the Benue and Cross River governments do not pay their counterpart funds.
He said it was saddening to note that the project, which has been on for three years, has no commitment, despite several advocacy visits.
“The GSF has said that if the government of Cross River and Benue states does not pay their counterpart funding for the RUSHPIN programme,, they would withdraw funding by the end of the year.”
He further disclosed that the Federal Government would be leading a high delegation to the two states to sensitise the state governments on the need to scale up funding for sanitation and hygiene.
Okon explained that when the FG signed the MOU with GSF in 2014, the design was for the Global body to provide $5million for the project implementation.
He said for the programme to be implemented in Benue and Cross river state, the states must commit $2.2 million each, for it to be replicated in three other local governments.
Lamenting the poor attention given to sanitation and hygiene in the country, Okon said more attention was given to water supply as against Sanitation and hygiene, adding that this trend needed to stop.
“Over the years, budget to the sanitation sub-sector has continue to dwindle adding that the government does not have a tangible funds allocated to sanitation and hygiene.”
The Project manager further lamented that the country loose $5.5billion annually to poor sanitation, adding that Nigeria is at the bottom of 25 countries in world in terms of sanitation.
Disclosing that the country ranks 5th position in Open Defecation index, he said 868,000 Nigerian children die annually as a result of open defecation and experience stunted growth.
He pointed out that the RUSHPIN project has triggered awareness in 1,028 communities out of which 823 communities in the six LGAs have been certified Open Defecation Free (ODF).